As the Championship 4 drivers take the green flag on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, there‘s a case to be made for each of the drivers in the running for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series title. For gamblers looking for betting value, though, one contender stands out.
First, let‘s justify a bet on each of them.
RELATED: Betting odds for Phoenix Cup race
Chase Elliott. The favorite for most of the season, Elliott has five wins on the year for Hendrick Motorsports. His teammate, Kyle Larson, won the championship last year at Phoenix, and Elliott accomplished the feat in 2020. He led 50 laps at this track in the spring and has a second and a fifth this season at Loudon and Richmond, respectively, two comparable short, flat layouts.
Joey Logano. Another contender with championship pedigree; Logano took the title in 2018 at Homestead. The Penske driver has two career wins at Phoenix, owns the highest average rating over the seven most recent races here (112.3, per Driver Averages), and has led 425 laps (19.4% of them) at this track over that span, tops in the series.
Christopher Bell. If there‘s a driver of destiny, Bell is it. He won his way into the Round of 8 last month at the Charlotte ROVAL and then into the Championship 4 last Sunday at Martinsville. In the two most recent races on comparable tracks, he won at Loudon and finished second at Richmond. Bell also comes from Joe Gibbs Racing, whose Kyle Busch won the 2019 and ’15 Cup titles.
Ross Chastain. Arguably this season‘s most consistent performer, Chastain boasts a series-leading 14 top fives as well as 20 top 10s (which ties him with Elliott for the most). His form is excellent heading into Phoenix, with four top fives (including two second-place finishes) over the last five races (the outlier being the Charlotte road course). And after pulling off that impossible-to-believe move at Martinsville to get here, can this guy really be counted out?
Here are odds from a pair of sportsbooks — the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and BetMGM — with prices to win at Phoenix on the left and championship futures on the right.
SB champ odds
MGM champ odds
Martin Truex Jr
OK, so where‘s the value?
To Ed Salmons, VP of risk management at the SuperBook, having been there before matters on the championship stage. That sets two drivers apart.
“Elliott and Logano have the edge in experience,” Salmons pointed out to NASCAR.com this week.
For bettors who agree with the oddsmaker‘s sentiment, Logano‘s odds, contrasted with Elliott‘s shorter price, have to prompt a look at the No. 22 Ford.
And from the quantitative perspective of Jim Sannes, a betting and fantasy analyst at numberFire, Logano warrants a play in the futures market.
“I’m seeing value in Logano at +340 to win the championship,” Sannes said in a direct message. “He has been phenomenal on short, flat tracks this year, trailing just Chase Elliott in aggregate average running position. But Elliott is the favorite while Logano is very much an underdog. He has also had extra time to prep for Phoenix, having clinched in Vegas. My model doesn’t account for that, but it does like Logano regardless.”
Payback Coming for Chastain?
Both Salmons and Michael Ranftle, the head NASCAR trader at BetMGM, are wary of what Chastain might have coming to him, after his unconventional move at Martinsville rattled some nerves.
“Chastain made some enemies,” said Salmons.
Ranftle said in email, “I would be a little concerned about Chastain; (Denny) Hamlin seemed to be kind of calm after the race last week all things considered. Maybe he will finally let it go now, but I would still be worried if they get close to each other, which seems to happen often.”
Looking Outside the Championship 4
Since NASCAR implemented the current playoff format in 2014, the final race has been won by a championship contender all eight times. While the oddsboard reflects the probability that non-contenders will stay out of the finalists‘ way, the pricing between the top four and the rest of the field is tighter than in year‘s past.
Last year, William Byron and Kyle Busch were each offered at +2500 at the Westgate to win at Phoenix, behind the Championship 4 of Kyle Larson/Elliott/Hamlin/Martin Truex Jr. This year, we have Larson, Hamlin, and Harvick all priced at +1800 or shorter at the Vegas shop.
The parity brought about by the Next Gen car has created this relative consolidation, according to Salmons.
Sannes agrees: “I think the tightening is due to the broader unpredictability of this season. Favorites — for the most part — have had longer odds this year than last year, so I do think that makes sense translating to this week.”
If you‘re looking for a long shot, the No. 5 is worth consideration.
“Larson is undervalued,” Sannes opined. “He’s racing for the owners’ championship, and he has made it clear in interviews since being eliminated that he cares about that. … My model is showing value on him when I don’t adjust for motivation, so I think if you want to bet a non-driver’s championship contender to win, Larson should be your guy.”
Said BetMGM‘s Ranftle, “nothing would be a shock at this point. It would be a fitting end to this season to see another first-time winner steal the race.”
An Elliott championship represents liability at the Westgate, most notably from a casino regular who made a $7,500 wager on Elliott when he was priced at +800 for a potential payout of $60,000.
At BetMGM, while Logano is a slight loser for the house, Ranftle called the liability “inconsequential.”
A casino player bet $5,000 to win $45,000 on the No. 22 at +900 back in March.
“Elliott has been one of the top favorites wire to wire so I guess the number was never too attractive to big bettors,” Ranftle said. “I would have thought there would be some big payouts on Chastain given that he started at 125-1 in the offseason. (We wrote) just one or two bets at that price and a handful of people got on to win a few thousand at 40-1 back in March.”
Marcus DiNitto is Senior News Editor at Gaming Today and has been covering sports business for more than 20 years and sports betting for about 10. NASCAR is among the many sports he bets — and typically loses — on. Follow him on Twitter; do not bet his picks.